Bus from Lima to Cusco

I recently returned from a North-Atlantic ferry flight a few days earlier than planned. When I arrived in Lima I couldn’t get a good airline ticket from Lima to Cusco, so I decided to take the bus instead.

As the crow flies, Lima to the imperial city of Qosqo is only 364 miles, but by bus the trip takes about 21-22 hours due to the traffic in Lima (2-3 hours) and the winding roads through the Andes mountains.

Taking the bus from Lima to Cusco is a bit of an adventure and a good way to see a little bit of Peru outside of the typical tourist areas. However, be warned: taking the bus from Lima to Cusco is not a good idea unless you are comfortable traveling in cars and busses over winding roads up and down steep mountains. Near Abancay for example the road goes up and back down several thousand feet. Inside the bus it can be very cold at night, so you need to take a blanket along. The restroom on the bus isn’t very clean even by Peruvian standards. Also, you never know what to expect on the grainy TV in the bus, but it probably won’t be anything you’re used to seeing on the boobtube at home.

There are many bus companies in Peru. We take the “Flores” company, which is quite nice and only costs 100 Soles (~$30) each way for the nice seats on the lower level of the bus.

Here’s a few pictures of my last trip:

Visit to Señor de Huanca

Perhaps the most important religious shrine in the Cusco area today is the church of Señor de Huanca, in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, about an hour outside the city of Cusco. Many Cusquenians go here to worship and ask for the blessings of Señor de Huanca.

Patricia with the baby outside Señor de Huanca

Patricia with the baby outside Señor de Huanca

Inside the shrine, believers light candles and pray for blessings of Señor de Huanca. It is believed that if one enters the shrine with a pure heart, Señor de Huanca will grant you any blessings you wish, but if you go inside with less than a pure heart, you will not receive any blessings and may even find harm.

In front of Señor de Huanca's church

In front of Señor de Huanca's church

Family visit to Señor de Huanca

Family visit to Señor de Huanca

It is believed that here is where God made his home among men. There are actually 2 different stories as to the origin of Señor de Huanca, of miracles that are believed to have happened there.

Today, many Cusquenians bring their new cars here to be blessed, because it is believed Señor de Huanca will protect them from harm. In fact, when we were there an entire fleet of at least 15-20 delivery trucks for Coca-Cola / Inka Cola were there.

Overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inka

Overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inka

Mommy with baby Brianna by Señor de Huanca

Mommy with baby Brianna by Señor de Huanca

During the month of September, the month of Señor de Huanca, thousands of believers make a pilgrimage to Señor de Huanca. From outside Cusco, I believe the pilgrimage is about a 4-6 hour walk. I haven’t done it, but I’d like to some day.

To visit Señor de Huanca, you can take a taxi from Cusco (by the hospital EsSalud) for 6 Soles (~$2) per person, or you can take a bus to the nearby town of Pisaq and get a taxi from there.

If you’re visiting Cusco, a day-trip to Señor de Huanca is definitely worth it. The shrine of Señor de Huanca is in a beautiful area overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inca. It is a very quiet place where you will find few tourists but typically several dozen locals who have come to worship. After visiting the church of Señor de Huanca you can enjoy typical Andean food in the nearby town of Pisac or in any of the towns in the “Valley of the South” on the way back to Cusco.

Flying with baby

We had a very good flight with the baby from Lima, Peru, to Amsterdam yesterday, a 12.5 hour intercontinental flight with a 5-month old baby. So here are a few tips about how to fly with a baby.

First: Tank up before flying, make sure baby’s tummie is good and full. The same thing is true for adults BTW, flying on an empty stomach is a bad idea.

Get a good meal before flying

Get a good meal before flying

You also want to keep the baby awake before the flight (in our case the flight left at 8:35pm), and, stating the obvious, change diaper before you get on the plane.

Second: Pick a fun place to go.

Lima airport departures

Lima airport departures

Look at that screen, are there any of those destinations you wouldn’t want to go to? Iquitos, Arequipa, Tarapoto, all places I want to go. I mean, if you’re possibly going to annoy 200 perfect strangers with a fussy baby, it better be worth it 😉

Third: Get all the necessary supplies to fly with baby. Diapers, bibs, a change of clothes, some extra baby food, paper towels, toys, etc. Brianna was also checking out some new sunglasses at the mall before we left… but we ended up not getting them because they made her look too pituca.

Baby trying out new sunglasses

Baby trying out new sunglasses

Fourth: Pick good seats…

Baby on airplane

Baby on airplane

The best seats for flying with a baby are in the front of the airplane, because there’s less noise and vibration.

And the most important part about flying with a baby: Request a crib!!!

Baby in crib on airplane

Baby in crib on airplane

Baby crib aboard KLM airlines

Baby crib aboard KLM airlines

Before we left, Patricia read online that most airlines carry baby cribs on long flights, which KLM confirmed on its website. We called ahead of time to request a crib, and the baby slept for most of the flight.

How we got our good seats is a story in itself. KLM opened the flight for online checkin 30 hours before departure. We checked out the seating chart beforehand and decided we wanted the first row behind business class, where there is extra legroom and a nearby bathroom. Right when the online checkin opened up I tried to select our favorite seats, but to no avail… No matter how desperately I clicked away on my laptop, I was unable to change my seat from the dreaded 43B (second-to-last row, middle seat). So I called KLM (thank goodness for Skype) and was told that I couldn’t select my seats online because I was traveling with a baby, but that our seats could be changed at the airport. We decided to go early to the airport and when we asked if we could have better seats, the agent told us he had already given us the first 2 seats for baby, 10 H&J. First row behind business class, with extra legroom, space for a baby crib and a nearby bathroom. The exact same seats we tried to select online! Que buena suerte!!!

Other than that, the cabin crew aboard KLM was very nice, Brianna even got her very own KLM bib!!!

UPDATE 12/22: while flying with baby was easy, adjusting to the time difference (6 hours) has been H*LL. Nada de dormir at night, wake her up in the morning and half hour later she falls back asleep. It takes her until 2:00pm-ish to fully wake up, and until 4:00am-ish to finally sleep at night.

HELP: any experience with babies adjusting to a time difference, please let us know!!!

Peru, safety and pitbulls

How safe is Peru? How dangerous are pitbulls?

Got an email from my mom a while back, loosely translated:

“… Two friends of mine were thinking about visiting Peru. They’ve planned out their trip to Lima, Machu Picchu, and Cusco, and have already bought their tickets. But someone told them Peru is dangerous, and then they also read that Peru is dangerous on some government website. Now they’re thinking about canceling their trip, what should they do?”

So is Peru dangerous in my opinion? Here’s my response, again loosely translated:

“… Jee if I had known how dangerous it is here I could have been scared for the last year and a half !! Peru is very safe in my experience, BUT, it is a poor country so you have to be mindful of petty crime. It often amazes me how some tourists walk around Cusco as if they’re in Disney World. You have to be aware of your belongings, especially in busy places and on buses. Pay attention when the bus stops. There are bad parts of town in Lima, just like anywhere else in the world, but there’s no reason an ordinary tourist would end up there. I imagine the reason the government website said Peru is dangerous is because in a few of the provinces along the border with Colombia there are drug cartels, but again there’s no reason the average tourist would end up there.”

And then I made the mistake of adding some humor…

“Besides if your friends are really scared they can borrow my Pitbull while they’re here…”
We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

Response from my mother….

“O my God, I’m so worried about what you’re going to do with the dogs now that you’re going to have a baby…”

Sometimes you just can’t win. There are lots of documented benefits of having dogs around children. Needless to say if you have strong, protective dogs like ours you have to pay attention to them, especially around children. But the notion that pitbulls randomly attack people is even more ridiculous than the idea that Peru is some bad unsafe place that you shouldn’t visit.

Huanchaco

Last week we visited the seaside resort of Huanchaco, in the North of Peru. Huanchaco is a great little beach town, quiet, laidback and picturesque. The climate in the North of Peru is beautiful year round, and there is great surf on the Pacific Coast.

We took a walk down the malecon (boardwalk) and had lunch overlooking the ocean – after all, during our entire visit to Trujillo we were practically living like the Roman Emperor.

From Trujillo you can get to Huanchaco by taxi for about 20 Nuevos Soles (~ $7) or by public transportation, just ask the locals which bus to take. I highly recommend it!

Changing perspectives

I had a great trip to the US, but cut it short. I missed Peru. I’m very fortunate to have great friends: I spent 10 days in 3 different States, everywhere I went my friends wanted me to stay longer.

I got a sunburn in Ohio – but it was great to see our friends there.

I had a loooooong layover in Miami, so I decided to take a bus in town and go shopping for baby clothes. Years ago I wouldn’t have been so keen to take public busses in Miami, but having spent time in Peru my perspective totally changed. These busses are nice! Big, roomy, with air conditioning and access for the disabled. The drivers actually obey traffic rules!!! There are nice little maps by the bus stop that show the bus routes and schedules.

Whoever is in charge of public transportation in Miami, please move down to Peru and straighten out the mess that passes for public transportation here!

Back in the USA – got fingerprints to prove it

I flew to the US on Thursday to renew my IA license and take care of some other odds and ends “back home”. On my arrival in Miami I got fingerprinted and my picture taken by the immigration folks. I noticed they did the same thing to other US residents (greencard holders), so I assume it must be new procedure.

Between US immigration and my Peruvian carné de extranjería I must have been fingerprinted at least a dozen times in the last 10 years or so. During the 4-year ordeal that was my post 9-11 green card application, I once got notified that my “fingerprints had expired”. Isn’t biometric data supposed to be permanent, and if fingerprints somehow expire, what’s the point?

Back to the trip home. As always, my first stop in the US after Miami is beautiful Conway, SC, since I leave my car there with my friend Dennis. Flying to Myrtle Beach is usually expensive, so I rented a car to get to SC. When I made my reservation online I got 2 options for the ridiculously low rate of $10.90: a van or a convertible. I thought I’d get a sneak preview of what my mid-life crisis will be like, and chose the convertible.

That worked out nice until I tried to put my suitcase in the trunk… Then I put the top down and cruised up I-95, next stop: a cheeseburger.

I got my fix of junkfood and had an uneventful drive to SC. After I dropped of the rental car I got lost driving around Myrtle Beach looking for million $ homes with Dennis and one of his equally proud redneck friends, but that’s another whole story. We eventually found the home they were looking for and afterwards went out for dinner to one of the nicest restaurants on the beach (“the Library”), thank goodness I was a guest!

How not to visit Cusco

A friend of mine, alias “C”, was in town for a visit last week. Check out his story, a must read. While your visit will (should) likely be much more uneventful, his account gives you a good idea what to expect in Cusco from the viewpoint of a young, single guy.

My comments:

  • “C” is absolutely right that visiting the tourist areas of Cusco and Machupicchu does not constitute knowing Peru.
  • Service in the tourism industry here can be mixed, to say the least. Sounds like “C” got the typical treatment on the city tour: because you’re a gringo we’ll nickel-and-dime you to death.
  • Last I checked (about a year ago) you could buy a “city touristic ticket” for around 25 Nuevos Soles, and it gives entrance to nearly every tourist site around the city (including Sacsayhuaman). Instead of taking a city tour, just take a walk around the city yourself. “C” posted a pretty good list of places to see in Cusco on his blog.
  • I like Sacsayhuaman, but I agree listening to the tour guides can bore you silly.
  • Around the Plaza de Armas and San Blas you do find a ton of “gringos” in the bars and discos. But the residential areas where you can find bars and discos packed with mostly locals are only a few blocks away. Best to go in a small group though.
  • Sicuani is really not the smallest, poorest town around. It’s actually pretty representative of a provincial Andean town. If you really want to know how people live in the Andes of Peru, just take one of the local busses (like “C” did) and talk to some of the people. The bus “C” took was not for poor people per se, it’s what ordinary Peruvians use to travel in the provinces.

Final thoughts:

  • Your visit should by all means be less eventful than “C’s”.
  • If you do get in trouble, there is a “tourist police” agency on the Plaza Tupac Amaru.
  • Don’t drink like you’re at home. The elevation in Cusco is 3,460 meter (~11,000 feet), or about twice as high as Denver. Being away from home, combined with thin air, alcohol and bricheras makes for some wild scenes at the nightspots in Cusco.

Going home…

I spent a few days in the US last week and returned to Peru using my carné de extranjería for the first time!!!

On the flight back, as I walked down the airstair and across the airport ramp here in Cusco, I caught myself humming “Going home”… Rather interesting subconscious association I thought, for a Belgian guy who lived in the US for 15+ years, now strolling “home” to his beautiful wife in Cusco, Peru.

Here’s the song for your entertainment. Keep in mind like all of my music on this blog it’s very artsy rock music. If you’re not into that kind of thing… well I’m terribly sorry you were born too late for great rock and roll music 🙂

Visit to Accha, Peru

We visited Patricia’s grandmother “mama Vicky” in Accha this week. Accha is a very traditional Peruvian town about 4 hours outside of Cusco.

We see “mama Vicky” regularly here in Cusco, but this was the first time I was over at her house in Accha. She gets around great for her age, and is obviously way more in her element in Accha than at her other house here in the city.

The trip to Accha is a bit of an adventure in itself, with the Peruvian bus drivers apparently unfazed by the steep ravine along the side of most of the unpaved roads that lead to Accha. Once there, Patricia and I had a good time just relaxing in the sun, taking walks, and generally acting like city-slickers do out in the country.

Accha is a traditional Peruvian agricultural town, where the locals mostly raise sheep and grow corn and other typical Andean crops. Most of the work is still done by hand, I only noticed 2 or 3 farm tractors in town and we rarely saw more than 3 or 4 cars in one day. The tranquility was absolutely refreshing compared to life in the city.

All the locals were very friendly and greeted us everywhere. Since gringos don’t get out to Accha very often, the little kids in town tended to stare at me and tell their buddies “mira un gringo!”

I uploaded more pictures on our Flickr page.

Patricia and "mama Vicky" in Accha, Peru

Patricia and mama Vicky in Accha, Peru

In Accha, Peru

In Accha, Peru